SEC: Missouri Tigers

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier beamed when he sprang into his postgame press conference room Saturday evening. He had just watched his Gamecocks shock No. 6 Georgia -- the team picked by many to represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff after just one game -- 38-35 with a gutsy, yet controversial, call to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier again got the best of Georgia and showed that South Carolina will make noise in the SEC Eastern Division.
The Head Ball Coach, who was labeled "done" by some after an unconvincing 1-1 start that featured an epic beat down from Texas A&M, was smiling once again after besting his favorite SEC pinata -- Georgia.

Spurrier got his 16th win over Georgia -- the most by any coach over the Dawgs -- and his fourth out of the last five meetings. He and his team also showed that what we thought of South Carolina heading into last weekend wasn't exactly true. There are still issues with the Gamecocks, especially on defense, but we were quick to write off the very team picked in the preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division.

"This is a good one," Spurrier said of Saturday's win. "I knew we had a good chance to beat them when I heard [ESPN radio host Paul] Finebaum picked them [Georgia] to win by about 25 points. He picked Alabama to beat Oklahoma by 25 [in last season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl] too. I said, 'We gotta chance tonight then.'”

Yeah, all that negativity we showed the Gamecocks last week didn't go unnoticed in Columbia.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t watching TV, seeing people say that Georgia was the No. 1 team, have them winning the playoff," South Carolina running back Mike Davis said. "Watching GameDay and seeing all those guys pick UGA, and having [ESPN college football analyst] Kirk [Herbstreit] being the only one who said we were going to win. This is a big confidence booster for our team.”

So South Carolina isn't dead, and it's clear that the SEC East is still very much wide open.

What else were we quick to assume about the SEC?

1. Jake Coker isn't ready: We all thought Coker would be Alabama's starting quarterback. Well, it's Florida week and veteran Blake Sims is very much the guy and has a big lead on Coker. Unlike Coker, Sims is limited with his arm, but he's done nothing to lose the starting job, while Coker has done nothing to take it.

2. Arkansas isn't the pushover it has been: We figured it'd be another ho-hum year for the Razorbacks. Then they challenged Auburn in the first half of their opener and literally ran over Nicholls State and Texas Tech with 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas looks like it can run on anyone.

3. Vanderbilt is in trouble: We thought the talent was still there for Vanderbilt to make another quality run under Derek Mason in his first year with the Commodores. Well, we aren't sure what's up, but the Commodores are lucky to be 1-2 at this point. After getting outscored 78-10 against Temple and Ole Miss, the Dores needed a last-second missed field goal to escape the UMass game.

4. Florida's defense has to climb back to elite status: We questioned Florida's offense, which still has concerns, but we didn't press the defense. Well, it turns out that there are actually real concerns with this younger unit. Coverage breakdowns fueled 369 Kentucky passing yards and three touchdowns. Also, can anyone besides Dante Fowler Jr. rush the passer?

5. Mississippi State's secondary has questions: It's early, but the Bulldogs have had issues in the back end of their defense. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 311.7 passing yards per game. Corner Taveze Calhoun, who garnered tons of preseason praise, and the guys around him at corner and safety have really underperformed to start the season.

6. Texas A&M is still pretty good: Wasn't this team supposed to take a few steps back without Johnny Manziel? Well, the Aggies didn't get the memo. Texas A&M upset South Carolina 52-28 to start the year, the defense looks better and quarterback Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 1,094 yards and has 11 touchdowns. I can't believe someone didn't think an A&M quarterback would throw for 3,000 yards this season ...

7. Kentucky can upset someone: If you watched any part of Florida's triple-overtime win over Kentucky, you'd know the Wildcats are better than they have been in years. Patrick Towles threw for almost 400 yards on the Gators with a handful of playmakers to use that this team hasn't had in a while. Also, that defense is much better with Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith battling for the top defensive end duo in the SEC.

8. Tennessee doesn't have a quarterback issue: We thought there was too much uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterbacks. Well, we were wrong, as Justin Worley has been solid, making tremendous throws through the first two games. He struggled against Oklahoma but is averaging 240 yards per game and has six touchdown passes.

9. Missouri isn't ready to take a step back: We thought there were a lot of questions for Mizzou on both sides of the ball, and there still might be, but this team isn't ready to bow out in the SEC. The competition hasn't been great, but Mizzou has done exactly what's been asked, outscoring teams 125-52.

10. Leonard Fournette isn't Michael Jordan ... yet: We thought Fournette would have at least 1,000 rushing yards and, like, 20 touchdowns at this point. What a disappointment! It's a long season folks, but Fournette is still learning and has just 162 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be great, but we actually have to be patient with him.

SEC Heisman watch: Week 3

September, 16, 2014
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Despite Saturday's loss to South Carolina, Todd Gurley is still among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season.

Georgia's stud running back did just about everything he could have to win that game Saturday. He broke through tackles, changed the field on a dime during a wild 17-yard gain, drug Gamecocks -- likely kicking and screaming -- on his back and legs, and flattened guys in his way inside Williams-Brice Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley did everything he could do to get Georgia a big road victory at South Carolina. Although the Bulldogs lost, he's still a top Heisman candidate.
Call this hyperbole if you want, but it wouldn't shock me if the lightning that delayed Saturday's game and the thunder heard in the distance that day wasn't linked to Gurley's presence in Columbia.

Still, it wasn't enough, but who knows what would have happened if he'd been given the ball on that first-and-goal from South Carolina's 4-yard line with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter. I know Bulldogs fans are wondering how the Dawgs went away from their workhorse back at such a critical moment ...

Through two games, Gurley is second in the SEC with 329 rushing yards on 35 attempts. He's averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. He also has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Gurley is your leader in the Heisman clubhouse nationally and the unquestioned one when it comes to SEC candidates. He has that special, rare blend of power, speed and agility that Playstation footballers wish they could compute.

But we already knew all that. So today, I thought we'd talk a little bit about the quarterbacks.

We can't have 10 legitimate Heisman candidates in the SEC. It's just not logical. But we can talk about a handful of guys who could throw themselves into the mix as the season goes on.

  • Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: Obviously, he's the leader out of the quarterback gate. He leads the SEC with 1,094 passing yards and has 11 passing touchdowns with zero interceptions. It doesn't matter who he's played since that phenomenal performance at South Carolina, the kid deserves Heisman love.
  • Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He's the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback with his 696 passing yards and 273 rushing yards. Prescott has accounted for 11 touchdowns and looks much sharper as a passer in the pocket. The next step is seeing how he performs in SEC play. Oh, hello road trip to LSU.
  • Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: OK, so we never really know which Wallace we'll get in games, but when he's on, he's not too shabby. He's second in the SEC with 1,023 yards and has nine touchdowns to four interceptions (three in the opener). With his 316 yards in a blowout win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Wallace tied Eli Manning's mark of 10 300-yard passing games at Ole Miss, which is a school record. Wallace will break that record soon enough.
  • Maty Mauk, Missouri: It's pretty obvious that the Tigers are just fine at quarterback with Mauk. All he's done as the full-time starter is throw for 647 yards and a league-high 12 touchdowns. Mauk can run if he needs to, and has really improved his pocket footwork, but he'd rather just stand and throw down field, which he does really well.

Now, will all of these guys be in the Heisman discussion in November? No. In fact, there's a good chance that by October most of this list will be eliminated from serious contention. But at this early part of the season, it was necessary to mention what these guys had done so far.

Here are a couple of other players to watch when it comes to SEC Heisman chances:

  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Still the best receiver around. Leads the SEC and the nation with 33 receptions and has a conference-leading 454 yards with two touchdowns.
  • Arkansas RBs: Alex Collins leads the SEC 411 rushing yards and has five touchdowns. Jonathan Williams is third with 322 yards and leads the league with six rushing touchdowns. Honestly, just take your pick with either back because they are both averaging more than 8 yards per carry.
  • Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: He was off this weekend, but is still fourth in the SEC with 289 rushing yards and has four touchdowns.
  • Travin Dural, WR, LSU: He was finally kept out of the end zone against Louisiana-Monroe, but is still second in the SEC with 370 receiving yards and has a league-leading four touchdowns.
  • Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: Through two games, he has 21 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns. If he's not on the field, Florida doesn't beat Kentucky Saturday.

SEC morning links

September, 16, 2014
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It's a fact frequently brought up in Missouri circles but not necessarily around the league, and it's one I find fascinating. The Tigers continued their nation-long active streak of forcing turnovers to 47 consecutive games on Saturday and it started with an interception by Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta. That triggered a run that would see the Tigers collect four turnovers in a 38-10 rout of Central Florida. It was one of the highlights of a great day by the Tigers' defensive line, including a strong performance from Shane Ray, who was eventually named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. The Tigers continue to simply play well and win. They have one more non-conference game (Indiana) before getting their chance to defend their SEC East division crown.

If Florida wants to be successful defensively, pressuring quarterbacks is paramount. On Saturday against Kentucky, Dante Fowler Jr. did a good job of it but didn't have a ton of help. That has to change when the Gators play Alabama this week. The individual matchup involving Fowler should be interesting -- he is facing Alabama true freshman Cam Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class. For what its worth, the Gators said they needed some adversity, like Saturday's game provided, before going to Tuscaloosa.

Days after its loss at South Carolina, Georgia is still the subject of much conversation. A lot of it centers around the offensive playcalling and coordinator Mike Bobo. My colleague Edward Aschoff said not giving the ball to running back Todd Gurley near the goal line late in the game was the wrong call. That topic was even the first question posed to Mark Richt by a caller on his weekly radio show and he admitted that “I think we were all thinking the same thing on the ride home.” The Bulldogs play Troy this week, so don't expect that chatter to calm anytime soon.

Read more here.

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SEC morning links

September, 15, 2014
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Arkansas' 49-28 win at Texas Tech was a big one for the Hogs in the Bret Bielema era, perhaps the biggest to date. It's a sign of a program showing improvement after a rough 2013. In the aftermath, much of the discussion focused on the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that big Arkansas offensive line. Rightfully so. But what is easy to overlook is the performance of the Razorbacks' defense, which took some body blows early but had an impressive second half, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just seven points. New defensive coordinator Robb Smith's crew stood up to the challenge Texas Tech presented and helped Arkansas score a seminal win as a result.

Though they lost, Kentucky opened a lot of eyes on Saturday night in the Swamp. Taking Florida to three overtimes in a 36-30 loss is notable for a program that has been a cellar dweller. One of the reasons for the Wildcats' ability to compete is the increased talent on the field they've gathered in recruiting under coach Mark Stoops. Several of those young Wildcats, especially receiver Garrett Johnson, give Kentucky reason for hope in the future.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is often cited as one of the most detailed-oriented coaches around. That may be true, but it doesn't apply to every part of the game, apparently. Asked after Saturday's win over Southern Mississippi about the play of left guard Leon Brown, Saban admitted that he doesn't pay much attention to the offensive linemen. As a former quarterback and defensive back, he focuses on the skill players. He emphasized that the linemen are important but that he doesn't even "watch them during individual [drills]." You can see the video, where Saban smiles and jokes his way through the soliloquy, here.

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SEC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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We're creeping closer and closer to the meat of conference season in the SEC. That just means things will get a little clearer in the bowl picture for the league.

We had a major shakeup at the top of our predictions with South Carolina's 38-35 upset win over Georgia, but we're still going with one SEC team making the College Football Playoff and 11 teams from the league making it into the postseason:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: South Carolina
Capital One Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Ole Miss
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Georgia
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Mississippi State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Birmingham Bowl: Tennessee

What we learned in the SEC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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Triple overtime in the Swamp? An upset in Columbia that was literally decided by inches? What more could you ask for? And it was only Week 3 in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonQuarterback Maty Mauk showed his mettle in Missouri's win over Central Florida on Saturday.
1. The SEC East race is wide-open: Had the ball been spotted an inch the other way, Georgia would’ve had good field position and one last chance to tie or win its game against South Carolina. It wasn’t meant to be. With the 38-35 loss, the Bulldogs are no longer the top team in the SEC. They’re not even the top team in their division right now. Technically, that spot belongs to Florida. The Gators are 1-0 in conference play after Saturday’s thrilling win over Kentucky, but they didn’t play like the East’s top team. Maybe it’s Missouri, which rolled over Central Florida at home. The Tigers are 3-0, and Maty Mauk might be the SEC’s best quarterback. Or maybe South Carolina is back after that much-needed win over Georgia. What happens if the Gamecocks run the table? At this point, nobody knows what’s going to happen. That’s why you play the games.

2. Gurley is still a beast and a Heisman front-runner: All week, everybody talked about Todd Gurley and how he’s the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and how he was going to run all over South Carolina. Well, he delivered. The junior rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.6 yards per carry in the loss. Those numbers might seem pedestrian for Gurley’s standards, but it was the broken tackles and yards after contact that were so impressive. Although Georgia lost the game, Gurley is the SEC’s top candidate to win the Heisman. The real head-scratcher came in the fourth quarter, when Georgia had the ball on first-and-goal from the South Carolina 4-yard line and tried to pass. Why not give it to Gurley? The star back should pad his stats in a favorable matchup at home against Troy next week.

3. Either Kentucky is much-improved or Florida is in trouble: The game wasn’t even over, and there were people already calling for Will Muschamp’s head. Florida obviously hung on for a 36-30 win, saving Muschamp's job for now. But what does the outcome say about the two teams? For starters, Kentucky is not the same team it was a season ago. The Wildcats came in confident, their defense played lights-out in the first half, and they were a play or two away from snapping their 27-game losing streak to the Gators. Don’t be surprised if Mark Stoops’ bunch ends up in a bowl game this season. With that said, it still didn’t look pretty for Florida. The Gators survived against Kentucky, but what happens when they travel to Alabama next week or when they have to play LSU and Missouri in back-to-back weeks in October?

4. Bielema isn’t going to change, nor does he have to: It was classic ground-and-pound football for Arkansas on Saturday, and Bret Bielema loved it. The Razorbacks flat-out dominated Texas Tech up front while Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams proved why they might be the best running back tandem in the SEC. Collins rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns, Williams had 145 yards and four touchdowns, and as a team, Arkansas racked up 439 yards on the ground in its 49-28 victory. That’s a lot of yards regardless of the opponent. And no, Texas Tech is not an SEC defense, but Arkansas did the same thing in the first half against Auburn before falling behind by two touchdowns in the third quarter. This is Bielema’s identity. He’s going to run the ball until it works or until he gets fired.

5. Don’t sleep on the two Mississippi schools: Quietly, Ole Miss and Mississippi State keep winning games, and still nobody is talking about them. It was easy pickings Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama, respectively, but both Magnolia State schools handled their business. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns in Ole Miss' 56-15 victory, and since the first half against Boise State, he is now 58-of-72 for 857 yards and eight touchdowns. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott threw for 201 yards, rushed for 139 yards and scored twice in Saturday’s 35-3 win. Don’t worry, we’ll find out soon about these two teams. The Bulldogs travel to LSU next weekend, and Ole Miss hosts Alabama in three weeks.

Video: Missouri 38, UCF 10

September, 13, 2014
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video Maty Mauk threw four touchdown passes to help No. 20 Missouri move to 3-0 with a 38-10 victory over visiting UCF.

Watch: 335-pound nose tackle snares INT

September, 13, 2014
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His teammates call him "The Big Bear," which seems like an appropriate nickname for a 300-plus-pound nose tackle.

So when Missouri's Josh Augusta made a leap and a pick in the Tigers' game against UCF on Saturday, it was a big deal for The Big Bear. Take a look:

video

SEC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
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UMass at Vanderbilt, FSN
When these teams met last season in Foxborough, Massachusetts, it was a competitive game before a Vandy team that would win nine games locked down a 24-7 victory. UMass gave Colorado a scare before falling 41-38 last weekend, so reeling Vandy had better come to play or it might be on upset alert.

Central Florida at No. 20 Missouri, SEC Network
When last we saw UCF, the Knights were suffering a heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Penn State in their season-opening matchup in Ireland. Mizzou is a 10-point favorite over the Knights, who won the Fiesta Bowl last season before stars Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson jumped to the NFL, but the opener made it clear that UCF can still compete with Power 5 opposition.

3:30 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Georgia
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley and No. 6 Georgia are looking for a second consecutive win over No. 24 South Carolina.
No. 6 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina, CBS
Georgia's visits to South Carolina are almost always must-see TV, although these trips are rarely much fun for Mark Richt's Bulldogs. Even when Georgia has won in Columbia -- and it has lost its past two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium -- the outcome has frequently been in doubt even in the final seconds. Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley should get plenty of work for Georgia in this one.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, ABC
Here's a fun clash of cultures for a national TV audience, which will see Bret Bielema's ground-and-pound face Kliff Kingsbury's passing attack. Texas Tech has a couple of nail-biter nonconference wins on its resume, while Arkansas is coming off a 73-7 drubbing of Nicholls State. The home team is a narrow favorite here, but this could be a good one.

4 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 14 Ole Miss, SEC Network
This looked like a sneaky good game before the season, with ULL coming off three consecutive bowl appearances. But the Ragin' Cajuns absorbed a 48-20 beating from Louisiana Tech last week and Ole Miss dominated Vanderbilt in Nashville, so it doesn't look like an upset is in the cards for this one.

Mississippi State at South Alabama, ESPNEWS
This will be the first time an SEC opponent has played at South Alabama and excitement is high in Mobile -- particularly after the Jaguars opened the season with a win and Mississippi State struggled to put away UAB for a while last Saturday. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and company need to turn in a complete performance with a trip to LSU ahead next week.

6 p.m. ET

Southern Mississippi at No. 3 Alabama, ESPN2
Alabama gets another opportunity to kick around an overmatched nonconference opponent, just as it did last week against Florida Atlantic. The good news for the Crimson Tide, a 48-point favorite, is that most of the starters should be watching from the sideline in the second half, resting up for a visit from Florida next Saturday.

7 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 LSU, ESPNU
Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 against in-state opponents and most of those games have been blowouts, so there is little reason to believe this will be a close contest. That said, the Tigers' secondary should face a reasonable challenge from the Warhawks' no-huddle spread attack.

7:30 p.m. ET

Kentucky at Florida, ESPN
Wildcats running back Jojo Kemp (a native Floridian) poked the bear this week when he made comments about how good it would feel to beat a couple of his former high school teammates -- and current Gators -- and rub it in their faces. Kentucky looks to be a greatly improved team, but it will be a major upset if this game is still close in the fourth quarter, and Kemp's comments probably didn't help the Wildcats' cause.

8 p.m. ET

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, ABC
As with Kentucky, this is a major measuring-stick game for an improving Tennessee team -- going on the road to face an opponent that virtually nobody expects the Volunteers to challenge. Butch Jones' Vols have been impressive so far, but their inexperience along the line of scrimmage will be their undoing in this one.

9 p.m. ET

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, ESPN2
For the second straight Saturday, the Aggies can help SEC viewers get to sleep by drubbing an in-state opponent in a late-night matchup. Rice, a 31-point underdog, might put up more of a fight than Lamar did in losing 73-3 to Texas A&M a week ago, but it won't be much more of one. Kenny Hill and the Aggies win big again.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
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video
There are much better games on tap this weekend in the SEC than last. Without question the top game this weekend happens on Saturday when the Georgia Bulldogs head to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking a few official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

Georgia at South Carolina

With 27 verbal commits South Carolina is pretty much full for its 2015 class except for maybe a few remaining spots. One big unofficial visitor this weekend will be Roquan Smith, the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker in the ESPN 300. Georgia is one of his top teams, so he could just be going to see the Bulldogs, but any chance a school gets to have a top recruit on campus, there is always a possibility he could be impressed by what he sees. With their 2015 class almost full, South Carolina will turn to their 2016 class. Three junior prospects, all ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN Junior 300, are expected to be in attendance. The trio consists of quarterback Brandon McIlwain, tight end Isaac Nauta and athlete Mecole Hardman.

The 2016 season can’t get here soon enough. That’s when the SEC mandate for at least one Power 5 nonconference game will go into effect. But how will the SEC fare when that day does arrive? Exactly how good is the conference outside its own borders? And how does its scheduling practices match up with others?

Bowls are only one thing

The SEC went 7-3 in bowl games last season. Since 2000, the league is a robust 26 games above .500 in bowl games, which is a better win-loss differential than the ACC (minus-5), Big 12 (even), Big Ten (minus-23) and Pac-12 (plus-5).

Go ahead, fans of the SEC: Thump your chest at that.

But don’t go too far. Because bowls are only one piece of the puzzle, and it might not be all that significant in the first place. Given the long delay between the end of the regular season and the start of bowl season, coupled with the lack of motivation to play for a better tomorrow, is it really a fair sample to draw from?

If you think so, don’t try telling that to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who said it was a challenge to get his team to “try to play a consolation game” against Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Besides, the real test of scheduling isn't who you were selected to play, but who you decided to play of your own free will.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Butch DillDan Mullen and Mississippi State are among the teams that schedules a lot of FCS opponents historically. But that only tells part of the story.
Last Saturday was horrific for fans

Saturday came and went without a single game of consequence in the SEC.

A week after scheduling nonconference games even Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops would qualify as “toughies” -- West Virginia, Wisconsin, Boise State, Clemson -- the SEC reverted to form and ordered up a bunch of cupcakes.

Alabama dominated Florida Atlantic, LSU trounced Sam Houston State and South Carolina survived East Carolina. Kentucky walloped Ohio and Missouri thumped Toledo. Florida saw Eastern Michigan’s troublesome cinder block wall and launched the Eagles right through it. All told, SEC teams outscored opponents by a cannon-wide margin of 462 points.

It certainly helped that none of those opponents were from Power 5 conferences. Sadly, one wasn’t even an FBS-level program, which we’ll have to get used to as teams pay for the right to beat teams like Western Carolina and Chattanooga.

Since 2004, SEC teams have scheduled 121 FCS opponents. Only four times have they lost. The average margin of victory: 31.5 points per game.

The top five worst offenders at scheduling games against teams outside the major conferences since 2004: Mississippi State (35), Ole miss (33), Arkansas (30), Alabama (30) and Tennessee (30). Outside of SEC newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, Georgia had the fewest such games with 21.

During the regular season, the SEC is still king

It’s easy to poke fun at the SEC scheduling. When you’re on top, criticism comes with the territory.

But when it comes to scheduling nonconference games against Power 5 opponents, the SEC isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, contrary to the buzz outside the Southeast.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the SEC has played 111 total regular-season games against Power 5 schools since 2004. Its 69-42 record is the best of the all Power 5 conferences, ahead of the Pac-12 (53-42), the Big 12 (42-42) and the Big Ten (36-45).

Over that time, the SEC has gone 42-23 against the ACC, 12-7 against the Pac-12, 9-8 against the Big 12 and 6-4 against the Big Ten.

Simple math says the SEC hasn’t shied away from playing its Power 5 brethren. The ACC leads the way with its 117 such nonconference games, but the Pac-12 (95), the Big 12 (84) and the Big Ten (81) all lag behind the SEC’s 111 total Power 5 matchups.

It’s going to get better -- sort of

Mark your calendars. Clear out your entire day on Sept. 3, 2016.

College football will (hopefully) be reborn on that day. Why? Because all the talk about improving strength of schedule will finally come to fruition. Alabama will play USC, UCLA will take on Texas A&M and Notre Dame will go to Texas. And those are just the games inside the Lone Star State. LSU and Wisconsin will do battle at Lambeau Field, and Clemson and Auburn will kick off in Atlanta.

It’s going to be a great day for college football fans. Just don’t expect it to last all season. Because while teams are beginning to go all in on premier nonconference games, it’s important to remember that it’s in the singular sense of the word. As in, only one per regular season.

According to FBSchedules.com, the week after Alabama plays USC, it hosts Western Kentucky. LSU, in the six weeks after playing Wisconsin, is set to welcome Southern Miss, Jacksonville State and South Alabama to Baton Rouge. And Auburn? It will be so exhausted with Clemson that it has to play Arkansas State in Week 2.

Unless something changes between now and the opening week of the 2016 season, Mississippi State will start out against South Alabama while Florida hosts the mighty UMass Minutemen. In Week 2, the Gators get the North Texas Mean Green.

SEC morning links

September, 9, 2014
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How good was Calvin Johnson last night? If you missed the game, Megatron put on a show with seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. That got me thinking. Is there a future Calvin Johnson in the SEC? Even though he’s on pace to shatter the record book at Alabama, Amari Cooper isn’t nearly as big or as physical as Johnson. He reminds me more of a Keenan Allen or a Reggie Wayne in his prime. When I think of Johnson, I think of players such as Marquez North at Tennessee or Ricky Seals-Jones at Texas A&M. Former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, now at Oklahoma, is another one that fits the bill. It will be interesting to see how all of these guys translate to the NFL one day. Both Cooper and Green-Beckham are among Todd McShay’s top 32 prospects for 2015 (Insider).

Despite all of the emerging wide receivers, the SEC is still a running back-driven league this season. After Week 1, Georgia’s Todd Gurley established himself as the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. As he prepares for Saturday’s showdown at South Carolina, here are 10 things to know about the Dawgs’ star. The Gamecocks have a pretty good back of their own in Mike Davis, and he certainly has Georgia’s attention after rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown in last year’s matchup. T.J. Yeldon is another obvious name, but how about Cameron Artis-Payne at Auburn? The senior has rushed for 289 yards through two games, the most by an Auburn back in his first two games since Rudi Johnson in 2000.

It was not a huge surprise to see Maty Mauk named the SEC offensive player of the week. He threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns against Toledo this past weekend, and there’s a lot more where that came from, especially with the deep ball. Seven of Mauk’s 34 completions this season have been of 25 yards or more. Meanwhile, Toledo will have to find a new quarterback. Former Alabama transfer Phillip Ely tore his ACL in Saturday’s game and will miss the rest of the season. Gary Pinkel’s thoughts? “I don’t wish that on any team -- even Kansas.” A quick jab from Pinkel. It’s too bad the two schools don’t play each other anymore. That was one of the more underrated rivalries in college football.

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Unless you're invested in a college football fantasy league with a team stockpiled with SEC talent, Saturday was hard to stomach.

Too many utterly overmatched opponents got their brains bashed in by the hands of superior SEC opponents, leaving most viewers yawning by sundown and SEC haters lambasting the conference for not challenging itself.

Hey, the haters were right. Oregon-Michigan State, Stanford-USC and Ohio State-Virginia Tech blew the SEC's slate out of the Mississippi River. After a decent opening week, the SEC went soft with its scheduling to pad stats and work some kinks out before things get a little tougher going forward.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLeonard Fournette and the LSU Tigers had no problems handling Sam Houston State -- blanking them 56-0.
The SEC outscored its nonconference competition 550-126 on Saturday, and while many will laugh at the conference's efforts, teams did exactly what they needed to do against lesser competition. Just about every SEC team made needed improvements from Week 1 to Week 2. There were no real scares, like Nebraska and Iowa (oh, Big Ten). No team let an opponent like Memphis scare it at home (hello, UCLA). No team needed a last-second interception to thwart a shocker, like North Carolina. And no team got upset, like Purdue (oh, man, Big Ten).

Outside of Vanderbilt, which was throttled at home by Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, which forgot how to play defense against UAB, every SEC team improved.

While we scoffed at the games, this wasn't a throwaway weekend for teams still looking to work through things before conference season gears up.

A perfect example of that is Florida. Coming off a disastrous 4-8 season and a canceled opener, the Gators stomped Eastern Michigan with 655 yards, scored on their first five possessions and averaged 7.6 yards per play with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper running things. Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who has had an up-and-down Florida career, completed 31 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown.

It was Eastern Michigan, which failed to master the art of the pregame run-out, but for a program desperately looking for an offensive pulse, this is exactly what the Gators needed.

"We needed a win and to get out and play," coach Will Muschamp said. "We're much improved. That's not false bravado. It's real. We are a better football team, and we are much improved."

Same for Arkansas. The Razorbacks thrashed Nicholls State 73-7 behind 684 yards. The Hogs needed to stop a 10-game losing streak, and they needed to shake off a bad second half against Auburn. They did with 495 rushing yards and quarterback Brandon Allen throwing for 117 yards and four touchdowns on just four completions.

Alabama's secondary played much better and was much more composed against FAU, while Nick Saban figured out more about his quarterback situation. Blake Sims is ahead and is the more composed player, but he is limited with his arm, unlike Jake Coker.

LSU played a complete game, Leonard Fournette shook off the nerves (13 carries, 92 yards and a touchdown), and we saw a more relaxed and confident Anthony Jennings at quarterback (188 yards and three touchdowns) in a 56-0 win over Sam Houston State.

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk looked like a seasoned veteran on the road, throwing for 325 yards and five touchdowns in what could have been a trap game against Toledo.

Auburn's offense clicked with Nick Marshall back at quarterback and the defense made vast improvements in a 59-13 win over San Jose State.

Texas A&M's offense is still scoring on Lamar, but the defense didn't allow a touchdown and didn't allow at least 430 yards for the first time since last year's UTEP game (Nov. 2).

And South Carolina got a must-win over a feisty East Carolina team that took it down to the fourth quarter. But the Gamecocks got their running game back just in time for Georgia. Now, if they can figure things out on defense.

Many won't cheer the SEC's past weekend, and that's totally legitimate, but the league did what it needed to, considering the circumstances. It might have been ugly scheduling, but at least the outcomes didn't look like the Big Ten's weekend.

SEC morning links

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
8:00
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After what was a dull weekend around the SEC, we get a bit more spice in the lineup this week. We’re a long way from Saturday, though. Let’s regroup and take a quick look around the league with several days to go before some big games arrive for SEC clubs.

Poll watching: I’d imagine some Alabama fans were a bit perturbed by dropping a spot in Sunday’s new Associated Press poll, from second to third, after dismantling Florida Atlantic on Saturday. It doesn’t matter much, though. Here’s why: teams ranked fifth, seventh, 10thand 14th are also on the Crimson Tide’s schedule. They’ll have more than enough opportunity to prove they deserve a higher ranking before long.

Many national writers have been having a field day lately writing early obituaries for the Big Ten. The weekend was an unmitigated disaster for that league, so that’s obviously fertile column material these days. Meanwhile, the SEC keeps on keeping on, placing four teams in the AP’s top seven (Alabama, Auburn at No. 5, Georgia at No. 6 and Texas A&M at No. 7) and five in the top 10 (LSU comes in at No. 10). Overall, eight SEC teams are in the top 25 (add No. 14 Ole Miss, No. 20 Missouri and No. 24 South Carolina).

The SEC’s lofty poll position only reinforces its spot as the home of the “Haves” in college football – a sport where the class divide between rich and poor seems to grow by the season. However, I never would have expected the Big Ten to languish among the “Have Nots” – not this early in the season, anyway. They usually wait until bowl season to receive that annual reminder.

Points to prove: Jokes aside, this is going to be an enormous weekend for a few of the ranked SEC teams. Specifically South Carolina and Missouri.

If Georgia goes into Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday and wins, not only will the Bulldogs jump into the driver’s seat in the SEC East, they might hand Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks an early knockout blow. South Carolina is already wobbly after a humiliating beating from Texas A&M in the opener, and the effects seemed to linger in Saturday’s 33-23 win against East Carolina. If they fall to 1-2 and 0-2 in league play, it will be time to re-evaluate things. They typically give Georgia all it wants in Columbia, though, so I’m sure Mark Richt doesn’t expect anything to come easily on Saturday. It never does for Georgia at Williams-Brice.

When it comes to Mizzou, I’ll be honest: I’m not impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Seriously, if the Tigers lose to Central Florida this weekend – I doubt that will happen, but UCF was a handful for Penn State in Ireland – I’m going to start wondering whether Mizzou will even become bowl eligble.

That would be an overreaction since Mizzou’s schedule is so weak that a decent non-BCS team would have a shot at getting to six wins. But reasonable Tigers fans can’t love what they’ve seen so far. South Dakota State was down by just three points about five minutes after halftime in the opener. And Toledo had 410 yards of total offense on Saturday, but repeatedly shot itself in the foot after gashing the Missouri defense for huge gains.

Nonetheless, the Tigers closed strong in both games and posted two 20-point wins while breaking in a bunch of new players. I didn’t think last season’s Mizzou team would be able to go the distance, either, and that group certainly proved me wrong. From what I’ve seen of these Tigers, though, they’ve got a lot of improving to do before they’re poll-worthy, much less legit contenders in the SEC East. But like I mentioned earlier with Alabama, Missouri will have the chance to prove where it belongs soon enough – particularly in the three-game stretch that arrives in a couple of weeks where it will visit South Carolina and Florida and host Georgia.

Gator believer: Here’s a team I am on board with, though: Florida. At least to the extent that I believe they’re going to make life interesting in the SEC East.

I’m not sitting in the front seat of the bandwagon yet, but it’s been apparent since Will Muschamp arrived in Gainesville that his teams will field a championship-caliber defense. The trick seemed to be building an offense that a smart-aleck sportswriter couldn’t accurately describe as “bumbling.”

The Gators appear to have at least that, and probably one that is much better than average, judging by its 65-0 win against Eastern Michigan. That defense will indeed be great and Kurt Roper seems to have things rolling with Jeff Driskel and company. The schedule is unforgiving, though, seeing how Florida’s cross-division games are against Alabama and LSU, plus they’ll have to face Florida State at the end of the year. But I’ve already seen enough to believe that Muschamp’s team is going to hang around the Eastern Division race this season – partially because the division is not that great and partially because this team looks to have legitimate firepower on offense, defense and special teams.

A few more links for the morning:

" LSU’s defense has held opponents scoreless for nearly six quarters.

" Auburn defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker continues to deal with an “irritating” knee issue.

" Richt called receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell doubtful for the South Carolina game.

SEC bowl projections: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
8:00
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It wasn't much of an eventful week in the SEC with so many teams playing weaker opponents and only one conference game, with Ole Miss routing Vanderbilt. As a result, there are no major shakeups in this week's bowl projections from last week's. Georgia had the weekend off, so it is still riding its impressive Week 1 victory to sit atop the list. We are still projecting only one SEC team in the College Football Playoff at the moment, though that could change down the road.

We are still projecting 11 SEC teams to make the postseason. Noting that these projections will fluctuate quite a bit throughout the season, here's our best guess after Week 2:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Georgia
Orange Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Capital One Bowl: Texas A&M
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Ole Miss
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Mississippi State
Belk Bowl: Florida
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Missouri
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Tennessee

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